Sue Unerman
Feb 18, 2014

Would you have sacked Kevin Pietersen?

When team leaders sack the maverick and give priority to team spirit over genius, they play into the hands of the competition, says the author.

Would you have sacked Kevin Pietersen?

"I bet Kevin Pietersen can't believe he's been kicked out of Kevin Pietersen's All Star XI." - @mattwhatsit on Twitter

The cricket pundits are nicely split over the career of KP this weekend.

Hugh "the voice of sport" McIlvanney, writing in The Sunday Times, says he "should have been permanently banished in 2012". He goes on to say that, while some will be of the opinion that talent should always be accommodated, KP's "disruptive disloyalty" and "career-long indictment of offences against the team ethic" make him unusable in the squad.

On the other hand, Emma John, writing in The Observer, says all true England fans will regret his departure, explaining: "We're infuriated that he's gone, angry at another incomprehensible management decision, one which seems to make even less sense in the wake of Andy Flower's departure and the ECB's desperately clingy attitude towards Alastair Cook. We're losing the England batsman whose presence in the side offered the promise of an explosive, match-changing innings in the most pessimistic of fans' hearts, no matter the circumstances. No-one ever regretted seeing Kevin Pietersen walk to the wicket."

Anthony Andrew in the same organ regrets the fact that, in any national sport, England can't deal with mavericks, citing Paul Gascoigne and Danny Cipriani as similar examples of troubled brilliance.

I know even less about cricket than football anf rugby. This week, I'm more excited about snowboarding in Sochi than the glorious sound of willow on leather. But I do have some thoughts about strategy and teams to offer.

It is true that a good team with great team spirit will prevail in a contest over a team with more talented individual stars who do not gel as a team. For this reason alone, you would be tempted to take the Sunday Times' point of view.

There is another point of view, which is that a winning strategy in a contest needs the element of surprise.

Let's go back to the bible, to the Old Testament. To the first great strategic upset in battle. Surprise was crucial when David defeated Goliath. You may not remember that King Saul offered David proper equipment for the fight when he volunteered to take on Goliath's challenge after the army (David was just an errand runner) had repeatedly turned it down. A suit of armour and a sword to stand against the giant. David declined this offer and stepped out armed only with a slingshot. His strategy relied on the element of surprise and Goliath not taking him seriously at first sight.

There's a big lesson in this for us all. If you can't overpower the enemy with brute force, try the unexpected.

When team leaders sack the maverick and give priority to team spirit over genius, they play into the hands of the competition. They settle for the reassurance of conformity and perhaps the more predictable. They insist that individualism is sublimated to the prevailing culture.

It is the erratic performance of the KPs of the world that can give your side the extra edge through a combination of greatness on a good day, or unpredictability even on an average day. A great team selector will ensure that the team spirit grows to embrace the maverick rather than shun brilliance.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom

The article first appeared on

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